Chelsea are through to the Champions League knockout rounds, but their confirmed progression on Tuesday night was anything but convincing.
The Blues raced into a comfortable two-goal lead over basement club Lille but were pegged back by a familiar face, Loic Remy, in the final 10 minutes and made to sweat for qualification to Monday’s last-16 draw.
It was a performance almost indicative of this current Chelsea incarnation under Frank Lampard; free-flowing and graceful at times, but susceptible and error-ridden at others. In the immediate aftermath, Lampard echoed comments voiced by captain Cesar Azpilicueta earlier this week, that the west London club are not “clinical enough to score our chances”.
The Chelsea boss highlighted the importance of filling the prolific goalscoring void left by former talisman Eden Hazard over the summer and has now hinted at possible recruits in the January window.
“Going forward if we’re looking at getting even better in forward areas to help competition, to help the idea of being more clinical, then I think we’ll always look at that,” Lampard said.
So, with Chelsea recently given the green light to spend in January, having seen their two-window transfer embargo uplifted, which forwards should Lampard be targeting? And who could prove the optimal successor to Hazard?
1. Jadon Sancho
The highly sought-after youngster is reportedly the target of several European heavyweights, so Chelsea will have to join the queue and be prepared for an epic tug-of-war transfer battle if they are to stave off competition and bring the England international to Stamford Bridge.
Sancho is a forward with superlative skill, can exploit space between the lines and most importantly for Chelsea, can score goals. This season the teenage phenom has already amassed a 10-goal haul and provided 11 assists across all competitions – these sort of numbers are comparable with Hazard.
Certain quarters are suggesting Lampard has a £150m war-chest to play around with in January, so expect big business. Given Sancho’s age, undoubted world-class ability, and Borussia Dortmund’s uncompromising strategy in the market, it may cost Lampard his entire transfer kitty to push this deal through, but there are few who carry such proficiency in front of goal as Sancho at this present moment in time.
2. Wilfried Zaha
The Ivorian is Crystal Palace through and through, but he has aspirations of playing in Europe and competing for silverware, hence his desire to leave for Arsenal last summer.
Well, he could be back on the M25 again next month as his agent – Federico Pastorello – has been talking up a potential departure from south London, and Chelsea are reportedly on red-alert for any further developments across the capital.
“I think he really deserves a new challenge and a top club, because he is really a top player,” Pastorello told Sky Sports. “It is surprising me because I read about a possible move in the summer but he stayed again.
“But this season he is proving that he is very focused and concentrated, so think he could be another good opportunity in the January market.”
Zaha’s unique skillset and devastation from the wing could prove the ideal tonic to Lampard’s final-third ailments. Sure, he may not boast the same ridiculous goalscoring metrics as Sancho or Hazard, but consider this: Crystal Palace have created the fewest chances of any Premier League club this season (104).
Chelsea, on the other hand, have created the second-most (208), more than Liverpool, so it would be interesting to see how Zaha could fare with more consistent chances coming his way.
3. Dries Mertens
Mertens could prove the ideal short-term solution for Lampard and perfect Hazard successor. Why? Both players are Belgian, pose similar pint-size frames, and have a very comparable gait. At 32, the diminutive forward won’t be expected to offer bundles of explosion four or five years down the line, but for this season and the next, he would be a very astute signing and could transform Chelsea’s inconsistent frontline. Plus, he may be available.
Things just aren’t rosy at the San Paolo Stadium these days, with Carlo Ancelotti recently facing Aurelio De Laurentiis’ wrath and getting the sack, while the polarising president has already denounced the idea of Mertens leaving Napoli for the Chinese Super League.
“If they want to sell themselves out in China, overpaid to live a life of s*** for two or three years, it’s their problem,” he recently said of Mertens and Jose Callejon.
Mertens plays through the middle for Napoli but is more than adept when deployed as an inside forward on the flank. With nine goals to his name already this season, Mertens would certainly alleviate any recent frustrations in the final third.
4. Yannick Carrasco
Hazard’s Belgian teammate Yannick Carrasco is an archetypal goalscoring wide-man and would undeniably add a cutting edge and devastation to Lampard’s attack.
He left Atletico Madrid for the Chinese Super League in 2018 and has been perennially linked with a return to Europe, with Arsenal firm favourites to sign him last season. And recent reports suggest the 26-year-old wants to leave Dalian Yifang and return to one of the continent’s powerhouse clubs.
It is believed that AC Milan, Inter Milan and Roma have already baulked at his £9m-a-season salary, but one club who possess pockets deep enough to match that fee is Chelsea.
5. Steven Bergwijn
Manchester United have been closely associated with Bergwijn’s signature, but Chelsea could very well hijack any purported deal here and make the Dutchman their marquee signing this winter window.
The 22-year-old Amsterdammer is a proven goalscorer from the byline, having found the back of the net 15 times across all competitions last season, while he already has six to his name this time around and 10 assists.
He boasts break-neck speed, innate close control and a refined end product, so would certainly add a cut-throat element to Lampard’s XI. There are still chinks to his armour, but under Lampard’s watchful eye he could really elevate his game to new heights.
6. Leon Bailey
The 22-year-old Jamaican is one of the Bundesliga’s most promising and lethal forwards, proving both competent in front of goal and capable of creating chances for his teammates. In 2017/18 Bailey scored nine goals and created a further six for Bayer Leverkusen in the German top-flight, but unfortunately, he fell below those lofty heights last term.
This campaign, he has been in and out of the side due to muscular problems, as well as a suspension picked up against Borussia Monchengladbach, but he has still found the back of the net four times in all competitions.
At a club like Chelsea, under the tutelage of Lampard, Bailey could really hone his craft and become a more consistent force, transforming into a player of real substance. It would take a significant outlay to bring him to London, but Chelsea have the requisite funds and Bailey has the requisite technical prowess to thrive at the Bridge.
7. Ryan Fraser
Fraser’s present contract expires at the end of the season, so clubs will be circling Dean Court like vultures looking to secure the Scot on a cut-price deal.
He may not be a star-studded name on the same level as some of the above candidates but his metrics are considerable, and more importantly for Lampard at this stage, comparable with Hazard’s.
In 2018/19 Fraser provided the second-most assists in the Premier League (14) of any player, just one below Hazard (15), created the third-most chances (93), only five short of Hazard (98), and managed to find the back of the net seven times.
He has fallen well below those standards this term, but a move to Chelsea could prove the catalyst in an upturn of fortunes and a renaissance on the wings.
8. Calvin Stengs
The 20-year-old AZ Alkmaar winger has truly come of age this season and looks set to have a very good career in the sport. Ronald Koeman has already recognised the precocious forward’s talents and has handed him an international cap for the Netherlands, while Barcelona were reportedly considering sending scouts to watch his debut for Oranje last month.
He has nine goals and 11 assists this season in all competitions, while Man Utd face him in the Europa League on Thursday where, no doubt, there will be a number of big clubs keeping watch.
His 6 ft 2 in frame makes him a unique proposition from the wing, while at just 20, he would be working under a manager in Lampard who has already demonstrated a paternalistic instinct, so he could really develop and nurture this talented tyro into an elite-level forward.